30 May 2011
The Trip, the television program, is a poignant, rambling, beautiful little series, starring comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as fictionalized versions of themselves. The Trip, the film, which I was able to catch at a packed SIFF screening, is an edited version of the television show. The six episode series clocks in at about 180 minutes, and the film, at 107 minutes, feels truncated and rushed comparatively. Both follow these hilarious gents as they review restaurants in the English countryside, but with those seventy-so minutes edited out, much of the nuance and poignancy is lost—the tone shifts from somber (but funny), to seemingly desperate for laughs. The film does often get those laughs (Coogan and Brydon, in their largely improvised conversations, are very humorous), but it fails to really make much impact beyond providing entertainment. The more melancholy scenes retained from the television series often feel tacked-on, and the transition between jokes and sentiment clunky, with quiet moments and breathing time largely cut out.
In the film and show, Steve Coogan expresses his desire to be acknowledged as more than just a comedic actor. He feels he could play more dramatic, serious, cinematic roles, but isn't offered those parts because of the success he's had doing goofy television comedy like Alan Partridge. "I don't want to do British TV," Coogan tells his agent when he's offered a guest spot as a Doctor Who baddy. "I want to be in films." Ironically, The Trip, the series, showcases one of Coogan's best dramatic performances to date—he's funny and real and heartbreaking, and all while on British television. The film, however, with its more frenetic pace, sacrificial cuts, and focus on jokes, seems to reinforce the impression Coogan is trying to escape—that he should just stick with broad comedy, and that subtlety is not really his thing. Coogan's BAFTA for his work on the show is well deserved, if inaccurately categorized as a "comedic" performance, but any accolades for the movie, beyond "best Michael Cain impersonation," would be unmerited due to the unfortunate editing choices.
Sadly, US audiences will unlikely be given a chance to legally view the series before a Region 1 DVD is released (if ever), and many of those familiar with Coogan or Brydon's work will no doubt go to see the film (it's been picked up by IFC), thus further separating Coogan from the dramatic recognition he rightfully deserves. Audiences looking for droll popcorn fare will not be disappointed, but those wanting to be genuinely moved should skip the flick and instead seek out the superlative television series, using whatever means they can.
The Trip was directed by Michael Winterbottom and written by Coogan and Brydon; the series was edited by Mags Arnold and Paul Monaghan (the film has no credited editor on IMDB); Claire Keelan (Nathan Barley) also stars.